I’m always tempted to dismiss pretentious-sounding phrases that I see on social media and don’t quite understand like ‘beauty privilege’ and ‘sexual capital’. However, attempting to write dismissive articles about said phrases has forced me to consider if I’m being 100% honest with myself.
Take beauty politics for instance; it’s okay to like being attractive. It’s equally okay not to care about being attractive. The value placed on women being attractive is ridiculous. It’s unfair and quite frankly, in some cases, plain racist that some groups of people are considered, by default, to be more attractive than others (God gave each race different physical virtues and humans, in their perversity, relegated those virtues to a league table). But if as feminists, we don’t care if we are considered attractive and fight for opportunities not to be dependent on our physical appearances, then beauty politics loses its power over us. Right? Wrong (apparently).
Why? Beauty privilege. Society doesn’t just label us attractive or not and leave us to nurse our smug/hurt feelings in peace. It rewards and punishes us accordingly. One big way is in the area of employment and therefore money. From people who want to pursue careers in show business to opportunities within more mundane career paths – attractive people and especially attractive women seemingly win.
I say seemingly win because they are made to pay a price for that victory. There is definitely some resentment and hostility towards attractive women as men and society in general exert themselves in the vital task of ensuring that pretty women don’t get too big for their boots and remain humble. As demonstrated by the Weinstein débâcle, sexually harassed attractive women seem to receive less sympathy from certain elements of society.
Another example is in the area of romantic love, partnership and marriage. Marriage is not an achievement in that lack of marriage is not a failure to achieve or be a complete woman. However, many people eventually hope to find that one person they can partner up with in life (and building a relationship can seem like hard work!). Women especially are simultaneously rejected for not being attractive enough to boost a man’s status or if they are attractive are made to prove that they have a brain (what living mammal doesn’t have a br..never mind) and are generally regarded with high suspicion.
Beauty privilege and, to some extent, sexual capital (not this nonsense about how ‘sex is power’ and how great it is to have a man brought to his knees by your sheer sexual force which is just regressive and a false victory) means that failing to be attractive, which you may not have a lot of control over, can have some influence over getting the basics in life.
Black women moan about white women’s beauty privilege causing me (along with our constant bothering of anyone who dares to write anything critical about Beyoncé) to despair a little. I would love for us to concentrate on what, to my mind, are the real issues and I hate the fact that we look so damn needy for validation. However, I can’t say that I don’t see their point. A white friend of mine eschews beauty politics. If you tell her that her young daughter is beautiful, she will give you a blank stare. If you try to talk to her about losing weight after a pregnancy, you will get the same reaction. She once blasted me on Facebook (the shame!) for praising Kim Kardashian for her post-pregnancy figure (North not Saint).
That is her absolute right and I would give anything to reach her level of nonchalance about beauty. The luxury of not despairing for at least 15 minutes ( to 15 hours) a day because I can’t shift that stone! However as a white woman in the UK, she already has a certain amount of beauty privilege that she is perhaps oblivious to. People see her as default femininity and whether she accepts it or not she gets whatever privilege (and disadvantages) that derive from that. In light of that, I’m a little kinder to my sisters who get hung up on beauty politics. Rightly or wrongly (wrongly), sex and beauty sells and not only has someone decided women have to be the ones to predominantly sell it; they’ve decided that a sizeable majority of black women can’t even have access to whatever financial or other advantages flow from this flawed system.
Feminism and Capitalism
Speaking of beauty and money, when people say we have to dismantle capitalism in order for feminism to be established what the *&^% are they on about? This came up in this segment (https://twitter.com/AJUpFront/status/923231917406687232) of an Al-Jazeera interview where Meghan Murphy and Jamia Wilson were asked whether they think Beyonce is a feminist icon.
Having read a lot of Murphy’s work, I starting feeling tense even before she opened her mouth as she had the twitchy, unsmiling demeanour of someone who was getting ready to announce that Beyonce’s brand of feminism was pure BS. However, she surprised me when she simply said, to summarise, that Beyonce’s feminism was suspect because it was entrenched in capitalism and that it was not possible to be a feminist and a capitalist at the same time. Wilson, a self-confessed Beyoncé fan, responded that she agrees with the need to dismantle capitalism.
If I actually stop to think about it, I can understand how capitalism props up sexism, in particular, and a lot of other inequalities. There’s money to be made in pressurising women to obsess about beauty, youth and sex appeal, getting people to think that men and women are so radically different that we need books, seminars and retreats to decipher each other, teaching women how to keep your man or on the darker side, the sex industry which is based on the idea that women can be bought, sold and consumed. In fact, if the choice, beauty obsessed, sex positive type of feminism is not an invention of capitalism, it definitely is a gold mine for consumerism as aspiring to look like your favourite pop/film/instagram star is now not only girly idolising but also apparently empowering. In parts of the world where capitalism results in abject poverty, it’s often the women who are the most vulnerable to the worst of the suffering.
So, I’m not confused when people link inequality to capitalism; I’m confused because despite this apparent need to ‘dismantle capitalism’ I can’t see any effort, which is sufficient to make the slightest dent in capitalism anywhere in the Western world (or does dismantle not mean what I think it does?) to do so. Sure, people like me would rather a more socialist form of capitalism but I haven’t really noticed people doing anything other than talking about how bad it is and attending the odd rally. Neither Murphy or Wilson looked entirely untouched by capitalism in that interview; if I may make a judgment based on their physical appearance.
Take me for example; I don’t consider myself to be a leader in the capitalist system. I don’t own my own business or any shares. I merrily collect a salary and continue to consume. Now that I have kids, the endless consumption doesn’t even seem that pleasurable. I may remember to question the ethical origins of the thing I’m consuming but that doesn’t happen very often. I don’t work as hard as some (take Kevin Hart for instance whose aggressively capitalised and comprehensive Twitter bio states “My name is Kevin Hart and I WORK HARD!!! That pretty much sums me up!!! Everybody Wants To Be Famous But Nobody Wants To Do The Work”) but I think I’m making a small contribution to society, through my employment.
I know lots of feminists. I haven’t seen any evidence that they are fighting capitalism in any kind of organised way that has any chance of succeeding. The most I can say is that some of them oppose (or mildly disapprove of) the worst excesses of capitalism. I don’t even really know of any truly non-capitalist country that has been a success story. I’ve always thought feminism is a doctrine that should be promoted in any context but perhaps naivete like mine has bred the kind of thinking that says the obtaining of money and power by a woman is in itself a feminist act, even if that money and power was obtained by sexist and patriarchal means. That would make the female owner of a brothel a feminist because she has found a way of making lots of money.
Watch this space. I’ve already started gathering intel on the issue.
Feminism and the Other Woman
One of the most fantastically stupid threads by a feminist I saw was in response to a nutter threatening to display a woman’s naked pictures on Twitter because the woman allegedly sent them to her husband. There is a significant risk that the first woman was unhinged as the second woman denied everything. The first woman’s account was eventually reported and shut down by Twitter and that was that. Storm in a tea-cup.
The thread contained such a perfect mixture of stupidity, feminist-speak and truth that as I stared at it blankly and blinking, the only response I could muster was not to press the like button. Imagine that. A few weeks later I’ve figured out what my response should have been and I live for the day when she retweets the thread.
Firstly, the thread. It regarded the situation – which would have been trying to instigate a sexual relationship with a married man by sending him naked photographs if the whole thing hadn’t been a figment of Woman 1’s over-fertile imagination – as an example of how married women expect society in general to take responsibility for and protect their marriages and labelled that expectation as entitlement. Basically expecting people not to try and sleep with your husband is patriarchal entitlement.
I did agree with the part that said the solution was to address your husband and not to attack the ‘other woman’ but apart from this the message in the thread is cobblers. It was a disgrace even to the flakiest choice feminist and essentially shores up the false idea that feminism means doing anything you want and the consequences are always someone else’s fault. It doesn’t fight patriarchy; it plays into the idea that women are illogical creatures incapable of taking responsibility for their actions.
It is not unreasonable for women to expect people to respect their relationships or marriages by not pursuing relationships with their other halves. The line comes when, if an affair happens, they go after the other women instead of addressing their husbands or partners, often under the guise that men can’t help themselves.
It is disrespectful to pursue a relationship with a ‘taken’ man but ultimately it is the man’s responsibility to reject the offer. I could imagine having a word (even jokingly) with both of them or finding another way to assert my presence if someone was openly flirting with my husband at a party but I would never take her aside and warn her not to mess with my man. That’s my husband’s job.
Sadly it is probably more common for married men to do the chasing. The narrative that has single women ‘stealing’ husbands, when not only do husbands allow themselves to be ‘stolen’ they are often the ones offering themselves up and attempting to break down the resistance of single women, is dishonest.
Another underlying issue is the divide between married and single woman in some cultures and societies. In these societies, the former automatically receive a higher status while the reaction to the latter ranges from pity to suspicion. Whether or not a woman wants to be single, there is pressure on her to feel like a failure when in reality finding a life partner is often just a matter of luck, especially with the high expectations that come with romantic relationships in terms of compatibility, overwhelming love, endless spells of uninterrupted happiness and fabulous social media photographs and updates.
In that situation, which can lead to bizarre behaviour like avoiding single friends once you get married, isn’t it incredibly naïve to expect loyalty from that single woman in the name of some contrived feminine solidarity which you yourself have failed to show to her? Wouldn’t, in fact, a more natural survivalist response of a single woman striving to meet society’s expectations be either to try and aspire to your marital status, by obtaining any man she can, including your husband (we’re still in the alternate universe where men are powerless in the face of even the slightest sexual advance) or the level the playing field by doing all she can to interfere in your relationship?
I think this is the frustration the author of the thread was projecting, rather than, as she implied, saving feminists from marriage which she described as the last tool in toolbox of oppression against women. Or perhaps she was angrily married and in love and frustrated that she was denied the opportunity to fight the good fight within what she thinks is the appropriate relationship status. I joke but I often torture myself with similar thoughts. Am I only a continuing to be a feminist because I’m happily married and ‘safe’? If, at 42, I wasn’t married, would I abandon all feminist ideals in my hunt to the death for someone who was willing to marry me?
Having said the above, if you are too evolved to accept that it’s immoral to sleep with a married man, then please understand that it is one of the least feminist things you can do. However woke your tweets are or sexually graphic your blog is, you are still operating on the basis that a man deserves the attention of two women – a modern day version of polygamy which includes dragging one man between two women and often fighting, resenting and hating the other woman simply because of a gutless codpiece that can’t make up his mind. And guess who is the beneficiary of all this moral mind-bending? Yup! You guessed it! The man again….
As a single girl, if a man couldn’t show me his two penises, he was going to have to explain to me in words of two syllables or less why he needed two women. It was as simple as that – not about female solidarity or empowerment. I was just too much of an angry, mouthy bitch to endure a man whining about how even though he was in a relationship with someone “he was weelly weelly unhappy because she didn’t understand him or tweat him wight”. In the interest of full and fair disclosure, it’s not like many married men approached me when I was single.
In part 2 of ‘Weird Feminism’: Tracy Treads Trepidatiously Into The Terrifying And Treacherous Terrain Between Terfs And Trans (If she dares. ONLY IF SHE DARES…..!). Before that, some comic relief (still on about feminism though) in ‘Simi vs Third Wave Feminism’.